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Photographic Success - Luck or Planning

Peace and Quiet

Recently, while out on my morning walk with our local men’s walking group, one of the chaps was talking to me about my photography. He had complimented my photographic art before and noted that he was impressed with how I chanced upon scenes at just the right time.

This thought, about luck relating to images captured by a photographer, is interesting and we talked about that for a bit.

To say that every photograph I make is a result of being at the right place at the right time would not be correct, yet it’s probable that luck has been involved with say 30% of my successful images.

There are a few caveats. In addition to luck, I need to have the right camera equipment with me and the light has to be just right in colour, intensity, and angle. Most importantly, I need to have the ability and awareness to see the potential for an image.

I have to confess that my best photo of the year so far was when I was lucky to arrive at exactly the right place at exactly the right time. I had to make some decisions that required my experience and understanding of how to use the features of my camera; however, the bottom line is that I was blessed with an incredible storm cloud scene.

Wildlife and astro photography have their own demands on the photographer. The photographer must have patience and significant experience with those subjects. I have neither.

Then there is studio photography. In this type of photography there is very little luck involved. Most of the set up and lighting is under the control of the photographer. Of course, the subject can provide an element of luck, especially when it comes to photographing children and animals. Both have little patience so the photographer has not only to be quick, but have the ability to see the look or expression that help define the subject’s character. Those are typically fleeting moments.


Consider the photograph at the start of this essay. That day I got up early with a plan to walk over to a pond close to our house and photograph families of geese. When I got to the pond there wasn’t a bird of any kind to be seen. After a few minutes of feeling sorry for myself, I thought I should spend some time doing PBWA. (A favourite expression of photographer and writer Brooks Jensen. It means simply ‘Photography By Walking Around’.)

This scene was very small in the context of the location, but there were many ‘right’ things about it. The calm water provided a reflection that had colour and a perceived texture. Because it was calm the little water bubbles formed in the stream flowing into the pond provided a unique base to the subject that I saw. Importantly, the lighting was flat and even—no deep shadows. I had my telephoto lens with me for different reasons, but I was able to use it to zero in on this small, peaceful scene.

So, what made this moment of creativity work for me—luck, planning, or vision? The luck was that there were no geese to be found and there was cloud cover. The planning had to do with bothering to get out there at that time of day and take more than my normal amount of photographic equipment. Then I decided to take advantage of being out and about, and engaging in PBWA. However, for me, the main contributor was my experience to ‘see’ the image and then compose it appropriately. That seeing ability has taken decades to develop and I made many inconsequential images over that time. These days I probably create twenty to thirty acceptable images a year, but only about three that are what I call ‘winners’.

If the geese had been at the pond, I doubt I would been able to break away from my plan and would have missed seeing this image. After composing what I’m seeing, then comes the expression. The expression is that inner feeling I have sometimes at the time of exposure and sometimes when I look at the final print. In this case my expression was Peace and Quiet, thus the title of the image.

PS. I did find the families of geese the next day and took many images. Not one of them was worth keeping.


“Beauty can be seen in all things, seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph.”

Matt Hardy

“There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative. Oop! The Moment! Once you miss it, it is gone forever.”

Henri Cartier-Bresson

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